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Improving Representation of Indigent Defendants-CPCS

SECTION 112.   Chapter 211D of the General Laws is hereby amended by striking out sections 1 to 2A, inclusive, as appearing in the 2008 Official Edition, and inserting the following 4 sections:-

Section 1. There shall be a committee for public counsel services, hereinafter referred to as the committee, to plan, oversee, and coordinate the delivery of criminal and certain noncriminal legal services by salaried public counsel, bar advocate and other assigned counsel programs and private attorneys serving on a per case basis. The committee shall consist of 15 persons: 2 of whom shall be appointed by the governor; 2 of whom shall be appointed by the president of the senate; 2 of whom shall be appointed by the speaker of the house of representatives; and 9 of whom shall be appointed by the justices of the supreme judicial court, 1 of whom shall have experience as a public defender, 1 of whom shall have experience as a private bar advocate, 1of whom shall have criminal appellate experience, 1 shall have a background in public administration and public finance, and 1 of whom shall be a current or former dean or faculty member of a law school. The court shall request and give appropriate consideration to nominees for the 9 positions from the Massachusetts Bar Association, county bar associations, the Boston Bar Association and other appropriate bar groups including, but not limited to, the Massachusetts Black Lawyers' Association, Inc., Women's Bar Association of Massachusetts, Inc., and the Massachusetts Association of Women Lawyers, Inc.

All members of the committee shall have a strong commitment to quality representation in indigent defense matters or have significant experience with issues related to indigent defense. The committee shall not include presently serving judges, elected state, county or local officials, district attorneys, state or local law enforcement officials or public defenders employed by the commonwealth. The term of office of each member of the committee shall be 4 years. Members of the committee may be removed for cause by the justices of the supreme judicial court. Vacancies shall be filled by the appointing authority that made the initial appointment to the unexpired term of the appointee within 60 days of the occurrence of the vacancy. An appointee shall continue in office beyond the expiration date of the appointee's term until a successor in office has been appointed and qualified. While serving on the committee, no member shall be assigned or appointed to represent indigent defendants before any court of the commonwealth. No member shall receive any compensation for service on the committee, but each member shall be reimbursed for actual expenses incurred in attending the committee meetings.

Chapter 268A shall apply to all members, officers and employees of the committee, except that the committee may provide representation or enter into a contract pursuant to section 3 or section 6, although a member of the committee may have an interest or involvement in any such matter if such interest and involvement is disclosed in advance to the other members of the committee and recorded in the minutes of the committee; provided, however, that no member having an interest or involvement in any contract under section 3 may participate in any particular matter, as defined in section 1 of chapter 268A, relating to such contract.

Section 2. The committee for public counsel services shall establish a definition of "indigency" for the purposes of this chapter and uniform standards and procedures for the determination by the courts of the commonwealth that: (1) a person is indigent and is unable to obtain counsel or (2) a person is indigent, but has the ability to pay a reduced fee for the appointment of counsel. The definition and standards, and any amendments thereto, shall be subject to the approval of the supreme judicial court and shall be used by the courts of the commonwealth in determining assignment of cases to the committee pursuant to section 5. In the formulation of the definition, standards and procedures, the committee shall utilize: (1) the reporting system operated by the commissioner of transitional assistance for the purpose of verifying financial eligibility of participants in state or federally funded programs; (2) the accessibility of income data available from the department of revenue; and (3) verifying material assets through the registry of motor vehicles.

Section 2A. (a) A person claiming indigency under section 2 shall execute a waiver authorizing the court's chief probation officer, or the officer's designee, to obtain the person's wage, tax and asset information from the department of revenue, department of transitional assistance and the registry of motor vehicles that the court may find useful in verifying the person's claim of indigency. The waiver shall authorize the chief probation officer, or the officer's designee, to conduct any further reassessment required by this section.

(b) It shall be the responsibility of the chief probation officer assigned to each court to ensure that a person claiming to be indigent meets the definition of indigency under section 2. A person seeking the appointment of counsel shall be interviewed by the chief probation officer or the officer's designee prior to the appointment of counsel. The person conducting the interview shall explain to the person seeking appointment of counsel: (1) the definition of indigency; (2) the process used to verify the person's information with other state agencies; and (3) the penalties for misrepresenting financial information in applying for the appointment of counsel. The officer or the officer's designee conducting the interview shall prepare a written indigency intake report that shall record the results of the interview and state a recommendation on whether or not the person seeking appointment of counsel is indigent. The person seeking appointment of counsel and the officer or the officer's designee conducting the interview shall sign the indigency intake report. In signing the report, the person seeking appointment of counsel shall certify under the pains and penalties of perjury that the information contained therein is true and that the person has not concealed any information relevant to the person's financial status. All statements contained in the report shall be deemed material statements. The completed report shall be presented to a judge who may adopt or reject the recommendations in the report, either in whole or in part.

(c) Appointment of counsel by a court shall, at all times, be subject to verification of indigency by the chief probation officer assigned to each court. The chief probation officer or the officer's designee shall, within 7 business days of appointment of counsel, complete a final report of the financial circumstances of the person for whom counsel was appointed containing wage, tax and asset information. In preparing the final report, the chief probation officer or the officer's designee may access, through electronic sharing of information pursuant to a memorandum of understanding, wage, tax and asset information in the possession of the department ofrevenue and the department of transitional assistance, and any other information relevant to the verification of indigency in the possession of the registry of motor vehicles. These departments shall provide this information to the chief probation officer or the officer's designee upon request. The chief probation officer shall sign the final report, certifying that the person for whom counsel was appointed either continues to meet or no longer meets the definition of indigency. Thereafter, the report shall be filed with the case papers and shall be presented to the judge presiding at the person's next court appearance; provided, however, that if a person for whom counsel was appointed is found to not meet the definition of indigency, a court appearance shall be scheduled as soon as feasible prior to the person's next court appearance if the next court appearance is more than 2 weeks from the date the final report is completed. If, upon receipt of the report, a judge finds that the person for whom counsel was appointed no longer meets the definition of indigency, the judge shall revoke the appointment of counsel and allow such person a reasonable continuance to obtain new counsel.

Not later than 6 months after the appointment of counsel, and every 6 months thereafter, the chief probation officer or the officer's designee shall conduct a further reassessment of the financial circumstances of the person for whom counsel was appointed to ensure that the person continues to meet the definition of indigency. The chief probation officer or the officer's designee shall prepare, sign and file a written report certifying that the person either continues to meet, or no longer meets, the definition of indigency.

(d) If a criminal defendant is charged with a second or further offense while continuing to be represented by court-appointed counsel for a previously charged offense, the court in its discretion shall determine whether any further determination of indigency, other than the bi-annual reassessments required by the defendant's representation for the first offense, need be undertaken. Upon completion of a reassessment, the chief probation officer shall prepare a written report of the officer's findings. The chief probation officer shall sign the report, certifying that the defendant either continues to meet or no longer meets the definition of indigency. The report shall be filed with the case papers and shall be presented to the judge presiding at the defendant's next court appearance. If, upon receipt of the report, a judge finds that the defendant no longer meets the definition of indigency, the judge shall revoke the appointment of counsel and allow the defendant a reasonable continuance to obtain new counsel.

(e) If the court finds that a person has materially misrepresented or omitted information concerning the person's property or assets for purposes of determining indigency and that the person does not meet the definition of indigency, the court shall immediately terminate any assignment or appointment of counsel made under this chapter and shall assess costs of not less than $1,000 against the person.

(f) A person provided counsel under this chapter shall be assessed a counsel fee of $150, which the court may waive only upon a determination from officer's data verification process that the person is unable to pay such $150 within 180 days. If, upon the biannual reassessment of the person's indigency, the court concludes that the person is able to pay the $150 counsel fee of which the person obtained a waiver, the court shall revoke the waiver and reimpose the $150 counsel fee. The fee shall be in addition to any reduced fee required pursuant to section 2.

(g) The court may authorize a person for whom counsel was appointed to perform community service in lieu of payment of the counsel fee. A person seeking to work off a counsel fee in community service shall perform 10 hours of community service, in a community service program administered by the administrative office of the trial court, for each $100 owed in legal counsel fees, which may be prorated. Notwithstanding any general or special law to the contrary, a court proceeding shall not be terminated and the person shall not be discharged if the person owes any portion of the legal counsel fee imposed by this section. The clerk shall not release any bail posted on such court proceeding until the legal counsel fee is satisfied in accordance with this chapter.

(h) The clerk of the court shall, within 60 days of appointment of counsel, report to the department of revenue, the department of transitional assistance and the registry of motor vehicles the amount of any legal counsel fee owed by the person for whom counsel was appointed under this chapter. The department of revenue shall intercept payment of such fee from tax refunds due to persons who owe all or a portion of such fee. The registry of motor vehicles shall not issue or renew a person's driver's license or motor vehicle registration for any vehicle subsequently purchased by such person until it receives notification from the clerk of the court that the fee has been collected or worked off in community service.

(i) The office of the commissioner of probation shall submit quarterly reports to the house and senate committees on ways and means that shall include, but not be limited to: (a) the number of individuals claiming indigency who are determined to be indigent; (b) the number of individuals claiming indigency who are determined not to be indigent; (c) the number of individuals found to have misrepresented wage, tax or asset information; (d) the number of individuals found to no longer qualify for appointment of counsel upon any re-assessment of indigency required by this section; (e) the total number of times an indigent misrepresentation fee was collected and the aggregate amount of indigent misrepresentation fees collected; (f) the total number of times indigent counsel fees were collected and waived and the aggregate amount of indigent counsel fees collected and waived; (g) the average indigent counsel fee that each court division collects; (h) the total number of times an indigent but able to contribute fee was collected and waived and the aggregate amount of indigent but able to contribute fees collected and waived; (i) the highest and lowest indigent but able to contribute fee collected in each court division; (j) the number of cases in which community service in lieu of indigent counsel fees was performed; and (k) other pertinent information to ascertain the effectiveness of indigency verification procedures. The information within such reports shall be delineated by court division, and delineated further by month.

Section 2B. A person charged with a misdemeanor or a violation of a municipal ordinance or bylaw, on motion of the commonwealth, the person or on the court's own motion, shall not be appointed counsel if the judge, at arraignment, informs such person on the record that, if the person is convicted of such offense, the person's sentence shall not include any period of incarceration. For good cause, that judge or another judge of the same court may later revoke such determination on the record and appoint counsel, and on the request such counsel shall be entitled to a continuance to conduct any necessary discovery and to prepare adequately for trial. Any such determination or revocation by a judge shall be endorsed upon the docket of the case.